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Wednesday
Dec262012

Easy breakfast casserole -- a holiday present for readers

If you ever have company for breakfast and need an easy and yummy alternative to setting out boxes of sugary cereal or frying up bacon and eggs, try this overnight egg casserole. You can fix it the night before. Then all you have to do is pop it in the oven turn on the coffee the next morning. And voilà! Instant gourmet breakfast.

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Sunday
Nov182012

A taste of heaven, just past the storefront

I was driving through the heart of Pennsylvania Dutch Country along old Pennsylvania Route 23 yesterday, a scenic two-lane highway.

On the way home from my appointment, I kept eyes peeled for my favorite sleepy storefront, one of the most scrumptious reasons to travel Route 23, a decades-old shop called Achenbach's Pastries.

Once you hit Leola, if you blink while you are tooling along, their facade and signage are so Old World and understated, you'll probably  miss it.

You have to be vigilant to find the store because it sneaks up on you. And, believe me, they are worth it!

Achenbach's has been making baked goods from scratch since 1954. They're famous for their donuts, voted best in Lancaster County (arguably the land of the donut) year in and year out. If you ask Achenbach's customers to name their favorite donut, the majority of folks would say their vanilla-frosted Long Johns, which melt in your mouth. Hence their mascot, Johnny the Long John.

One of the things that makes Achenbach's special compared to chain stores is the product line that varies widely, from month to month, depending on the produce in season. Each month the racks and display cases are chock-a-block with seasonal items. You can see the featured fall flavors.  Closer to Christmas, flavors typically featured are:

Filled Donut – Raspberry Cream
Muffin – Cranberry Nut
Danish – Individual Fruit Stollen
Turnover – CranApple

Don't they all sound delicious?

You don't go to Achenbach's for a peach pie in December. I prefer to take advantage of the flavors of the season because that's what makes them special and their baked goods so fresh.

Achenbach's is the only bakery I know that makes one-pound chocolate eclairs and modest eight ounce eclairs for calorie counters. They also sell homemade bread, pies, and a cake-of-the-month, samples of which are always disappear from the counter.

You can order elegant wedding cakes there that not only look fantastic, they are actually moist and flavorful. They have a little cafe to the left of the bakery, too, which is open for a few meals a day.

If you want fancy fixtures and ferns, go to a trendy coffee shop. If you want delicious, freshly made homebaked goods visit Achenbach's, a treasure in this part of Pennsylvania.

The maple danish currently melting in my mouth approves this message.

Saturday
Sep152012

Wads vs. dust ruffles or why men are still from Mars

As some of you may know, my husband and I have been retting up our home (which means "cleaning and tidying up" in Pennsylvania Dutch) because it's going on the market soon. This endeavor has led me to visit the Home Depot, or as my husband calls it "The Home Despot" several times in the last few weeks.

And here is the most remarkable takeaway from my Home Despot forays. Men like wads! Big fat wads of cash that they whip out of their wallets to pay for their cool manly stuff.

Last week, I stood in awe as male shopper after male shopper in front of me in the checkout line yanked out his wallet and paid cash for his purchases. Peeling off twenty dollar bills like dried skin flakes off my arms after a bad sunburn. As I watched the garish display of greenbacks, I knew I'd be writing a blog post about this very subject when I got a spare moment.

Not too long before I'd made all the Home Despot runs, I had hit an upscale shoe store for a pair of shoes to wear to a job interview. In front of me was a guy buying a pair Birkenstocks. He whipped out a wad of cash, ticked off six twenties (the sandals were on sale!) and handed the big wad of cash to the female clerk, whose eyes were bugged out at handling so much cash at one time.

After he left, I remarked, "Wow. Women never pay for expensive shoes with cash." The sales clerk agree with me because she and I belong to a secret society called WWOWW--Wonderful Women Only Without Wads. This secret society has many card-carrying members. True story: Once two college deans and I attended a reception with a cash bar and couldn't come up with enough money between us to buy one glass of Chardonnay.

Many women, myself included, use plastic wherever we go. I think bankers made debit cards for women, and that whoever thought of them must have been inhabiting a women's mind and body like Mel Gibson in the movie What Women Want.

Women don't want to carry around wads of cash. For one thing, it ruins the line of your clothing or pants or it makes your purse too heavy to lug around. We don't want to get robbed either. Chances are the cash we'd be carrying around is all we have left in the bank account until pay day anyway.

So what do women want? I'll tell you what we want, you wad carrying members of the species. Besides debit cards in our wallets and plenty of stores and vendors who accept plastic, women want dust ruffles.

My husband happens to be allergic to dust ruffles. Whenever I ask him to help me lift off the mattress so the dust ruffle can be washed or put on top of the box spring, he scowls at me and says, "I hate those things. What good are they?'

Everyone knows they serve no practical purpose whatsoever. Dust ruffles are frou-frou. But if you don't have one, your bed ensemble doesn't look complete. It's as simple as that.

On second thought, dust ruffles are practical. You can hide more things under your bed thanks to dust ruffles. If you have to tidy up your house in a moment's notice, dust ruffles are your friend and closest ally, kind of like Great Britain since World War II.

Maybe men liking wads of cash and women liking dust ruffles is an unwritten law of the universe. Or maybe it's just nature and nurture taking its course. Men still make more money than women for the same job. They have more opportunity to acquire a wad of cash than we do while women still insist on following through on the smallest details that seem inconsequential to most men. Maybe if we didn't have to buy things like dust ruffles, we'd have more twenties to peel off when we got to the Home Despot to purchase our five-gallon tub of Thompson's Water Seal.

Wednesday
Aug222012

Writer Wednesday with award-winning fictionist Richard Fellinger

Today it's my privilege to welcome my friend Fictionist Rick Fellingerand fellow alum of the Wilkes University Creative Writing Program, Richard (Rick) Fellinger.

Rick obtained his MFA a few semesters before me, but because he lives in Central Pennsylvania, he became a member of the Elizabethtown Writing Group that I started in 2011. That's how we got to know each other purty gut, as people say in these parts.

As one of his colleagues in the E-town College English Department once said, Rick beat insurmountable odds in winning the Serena McDonald Kennedy Fiction Award in 2011, for his collection of short fiction called They Hover Over Us. It comprises 13 short stories about people from Pennsylvania's Rust Belt. Gritty, witty and ponderous, this collection explores complex yet relatable themes such as longing, loss and love and is out now from Snake Nation Press. It's also available on Kindle, Nook and other e-readers.

Here's my review of Rick's stunning fiction debut.

How big of a win was this for Rick? It's more likely that he would've been fatally struck down by an Amish-owned and operated John Deere tractor hauling overripe watermelons in February than having your writing selected for this prestigious literary honor.

Now, that's beating some fearsome odds, people.

He also happens to be Rick's prize-winning collectionthe first writer's name (out of 24) that comes up when you enter Fellinger in the Goodreads search engine.

(Oh, if only such a top-of-mind presence were so with "Martin," my friends. I'm like 51,000th. And the point of this digression is to say that Rick's is a first-rate collection and you should run out and purchase it immediately--before even finishing this blog post. Yes, it's that good.)

Anyhoo, I've done a few author events with Rick and hope to do many more because his stories absolutely electrify the audience assembled. (And if I'm lucky, I get to ride on my talented friend's coattails.)

Welcome to "Scrivengale," compadre! Any writing rituals you have to get it going?
Pretty simple: coffee in the morning. After I down about half a cup, and I’ve checked all my emails and so forth, I’m ready to go. Sometimes I’ll spin a CD in a cheap little alarm clock/radio/disc player that sits on top of a dresser behind my desk. And when I do, it’s usually Springsteen, sometimes Tom Waits.

What’s your cure for writer’s block?
I don’t believe in it. Maybe you’ve heard that before, but here’s my personal take on it: I’m an old marathon runner and an old journalist, and I really believe that you can push through many things in life. Such as a nettlesome scene or a difficult editor or an unexpected writing slump. I’ve experienced slumps, treacherous editors and troublesome scenes, and I probably will again, but so what. Push through it. Sit down and type.

Rick reading from his collection at Lancaster's First Friday, May 2012.What do you tell people who ask what you do at cocktail parties and such?
I usually spit it out this way: “I’m a writer and a writing teacher.” Writing still doesn’t pay too many of the bills in my family, so before I mislead anyone into thinking that it does, I tell them up front that I teach writing at Elizabethtown College in Central Pennsylvania.

What’s the worst part about being a writer?

Paying the aforementioned bills.

If you could have written any book, which would it be?
Ironweed by William Kennedy. It’s the most humane book I can recall, set in Albany, in the shadows of power, and yet it’s about the town bums. A line from that book is also the epigraph to my own short story collection: “One never knows the potential within any human breast.”

What were you doing ten years ago?
I was the state Capitol reporter in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, for a group of newspapers. Ed Rendell was seeking the governorship, and Tom Ridge was in his first full year as Homeland Security boss while his number-two man, Mark Schweiker, served out the remainder of his governor’s term, and I’d just published my first major magazine piece in Philly Mag on Rendell’s primary foe, Bob Casey Jr. Incidentally, I was also recovering from a bad case of tendonitis in my left knee after running my seventh, and last, marathon in Pittsburgh that spring.

What do you hope to be doing ten years from now besides writing?
Staying healthy, for one. Maybe some 5Ks and 10Ks. And catching some baseball games at 115 Federal Street, Pittsburgh, Pa., as the Pirates seek their tenth straight playoff appearance, behind ten-time All-Star Andrew McCutchen, and sipping an ice-cold Iron City and saying clever, quotable things to the guy beside me like, “Remember ten years ago, when we made our first big playoff run since the old days, and everyone thought waiting for the Pirates to win it all was as useless as waiting for Jimmy Hoffa to show up at the local Teamster’s hall?”

Wilkes alum at City House, Harrisburg author event: Yours truly, Rick, and Lori MyersWhat’s your biggest anxiety about your writing/writing life?

Fear of going unread and unrecognized. As an old journalist, everything I wrote appeared in print, even the bad stories that I wish I had back, some buried deep in the paper, some appropriately so. That’s all changed now, and I dread the notion that something I write, and in fact really like, will sit unread forever on my computer’s hard drive. It may cause me added anxiety now because I’ve been working on a novel for three-plus years, and I do believe deep down that it’s good, and that with a little more work it will be good enough to publish, but the thought that all that work could go for naught is troubling. But on the upside, I’ve read recently about the concept of healthy anxiety, how it can drive you to achieve, so hopefully my writing life is causing me healthy anxiety that will drive me to do what it takes to get that novel in print.

If you could have anyone’s job/life but your own, whose would it be?

Honestly, I have a loving wife and a great son, and I wouldn’t want anyone else’s life. But job? Hmm. I wouldn’t mind going to the ballpark every day, and I’ve always admired Joe Maddon, the bespectacled manager of the Tampa Bay Rays, who’s from Hazleton, Pennsylvania, and is one of the smartest men in baseball. Not such a bad job for a Hazleton guy. So I’d have to say manager of the Tampa Bay Rays.

What’s the biggest misconception about you now that you’re a published writer?
One may be that I’m “a short story writer,” when in fact I haven’t written a short story in a few years. Yes, my first book is a collection of short stories, but because I’ve been working on a novel steadily for the past few years, I feel more like a novelist than a short story writer right now. I’ve always believed that writers write, period. So I don’t like being referred to as a short story writer. Like Norman Mailer, who wrote great novels and non-fiction, and Richard Ford, who’s written great novels and short stories, we should be comfortable writing in any form. We’re writers. I hope that does it for you.

* * *

It certainly does, my talented friend.

Rick's' extraordinary book is available on Kindle at http://amzn.to/MxV3uo. It's also available on all other e-readers. Hard copy at www.snakenationpress.org. You can also like his Facebook fan page at https://www.facebook.com/TheyHoverOverUs or follow him on Twitter @rfellinger.

Tuesday
Aug072012

Welcoming Ginger Marcinkowski, author of 'Run, River Currents,' her new release

Ginger Marcinkowski, author of RUN, RIVER CURRENTS

What an utter joy it is to welcome my very good friend Ginger Marcinkowski to "Scrivengale" today for an author Q&A. Ginger just released her first novel RUN, RIVER CURRENTS (Booktrope 2012), which is an extraordinarily beautiful and powerful tale of suffering and redemption.

Because Ginger and I attended the Wilkes University Creative Writing Program together, I had the privilege of reading a later draft of RUN, RIVER CURRENTS. I say privilege because certain important stories must be told about children who are scarred, whose physical injuries and emotional damage are inflicted at the hands of those society has entrusted with their care.

This book is one of those gut-wrenching stories. Ginger has crafted a soul-searing novel about one woman’s lifelong journey for self-acceptance and peace that ranges across Maritime Canada, yet her central character Emily Douay is unable to find a safe haven anywhere, long into adulthood.

It’s hard to know who is the greater villain—Emily’s abusive father or self-absorbed, opportunistic mother. Bereft of kindness and wisdom from her own parents, Emily can only cling to her grandfather’s kindly words: “You’re not alone. God will never leave you.” This is a tale of wrongdoing and the victimization of innocents, of forgiveness and redemption, that you won’t be able to put down until the last line of the last page. Surely, if one as wronged as Emily can move on in life with the help of God, there’s hope for us all. 

As dark as Emily's journey is, you also need to know that there's beauty in this book, too, in Ginger's prose, in the description of the Canadian countryside, in recounting the rituals and the laborers' work, whether logging or in the potato fields.

So welcome, Ginger, and congratulations on a stunning debut novel!

How long did it take you to write this book? The seed for the book was always inside of me, but I didn’t start writing the manuscript until I began my M.F.A. program at Wilkes around four years ago. The intention was to write a comical biography about my mother, who single-handedly raised eight children. My mother was a hoot. Everyone loved her, and she always had to be the center of attention. Kaylie Jones and I had some fun conversations about our mothers. Her mother was a socialite, married to the renowned novelist James Jones. They lived in Paris and New York and travelled in elite social circles. Upon hearing that, I dubbed my mother the Walmart version of Kaylie’s mom. My mother would have loved that!

In the end, this story went from a comedy to the story that needed to be told. My mentor, Sara Pritchard, pulled the story from me, sensing that there was a darker story in the comedic tidbits I was writing.

How did you settle on the title? This story has numerous titles including Tobique, pronounced toe-bick) the river on which this story is based. Because the river plays such a character role and is used as metaphors for what is going on in Emily’s, the main character’s life, it seemed fitting to have a title that reflected that point. Booktrope, my publisher, assigned me a very talented book editor named Lori Higham. She came up with the final title. The title beautifully reflects the power that river had in my own life as a giver of life and death, hope and redemption. It’s a crossover book between mainstream women’s fiction and Christian fiction and has a non-preachy storyline.

How did you find and incorporate the distance and detachment all autobiographical fiction demands? I think time distances you from some pain. It’s never forgotten, but when the pain dulls you can look at the past with a less cynical eye. You can place yourself in other’s shoes and get a better realization of the thought process they had while they went through their own struggles. I told this story as though I was an observer and not a victim. I realized I had forgiven and been forgiven myself, so it made it easier to share some truth in this fictionalized story.

I’ve already had people ask me, “Did this happen to you?” The story IS based on true events but is heavily fictionalized. My brothers and sisters will know some of the truth in the book, especially the setting. Plaster Rock is a place we all love and the only true place any one of us would call “home.” But even our experiences differed as children. The older siblings would read this and recognize a bit of truth here and there and yet the younger siblings might not recognize anything. But this is my fictional story, told with truth and great love.

What do you want people to take away from this book?  I know that there are hurting people everywhere. They may have had to endure some form of abuse whether it was sexual, physical or mental. But I want them to know that there is a way out, and that what has happened to them in the past does not have to affect their future. They have the choice to stay locked in a prison of their own making or they can take control of their lives and choose to live a full and happy life. It comes down to the choice letting the Devil keep us in that dark place or allowing God to give us the joy he so freely offers.

It’s a sobering story, but do you have a favorite scene? The day Emily was baptized in the Tobique River. It was the same day her best friend Dave Cook, drowned. The river was a giver of life as well as a taker of life. He’s a cutting from that scene.

The day of Emily’s baptism was oven hot, a day when children baked in their homes until mothers ran them outside to escape their heat-induced whines. Eleven-year-old Dave Cook was one of four boys who had skipped the revival, tagging along with older boys to swim in the river.

Emily longed to join the boys. Dave had told her he’d already eyed the log gap from shore earlier that day. Halfway across the river, the rushing water had heaved logs into the air, pushing them high and solidly latching the timbers into makeshift diving platforms. Emily stood at the top of the path to the river, watching the carefree boys until Reverend Park called her name.

Kent Green, Dave, Ronnie, and Ronnie’s cousin Rene Tibideaux stood on the riverbank, each daring the other to begin the run to the log jam.

“You go!” Dave charged.

“No, you go.” Rene yelled back.

“What are you, chicken? Bawk! Bawk! Chicken!” Ronnie taunted.

The jeers continued, with Rene pulling at Ronnie’s arm until Ronnie lunged forward and fell face first into the red dirt. Ronnie grabbed at Kent’s leg, jerking away from Rene’s grasp. Finally, Dave, dashing from all of them, steadied his foot on the lead log and, feeling no movement, began to run. He crossed to the second log, a thin white birch, with little effort; its bark was peeled back, exposing a slippery beige skin. He hopped to another log and then another, his confidence growing. He was several logs out on a steady timber when he turned to face the skeptics behind him.

“Chicken!” he clucked.

 “Keep going, Dave!” Emily yelled from the top of the hill, her voice carrying down over the water as though she had a megaphone.

The boys flung their shoes into the air, and the race was on. They flitted log to log, mimicking Dave’s route. Dave took off again, his arms gyrating like a windmill when he hit the sinker.

“Emily?” Reverend Park’s thundering voice called her to the baptism pool. She swung around and ran toward him, losing sight of the boys in the water.

She figured it was about the time the logs had dislodged and separated, wide jaws bent on swallowing, that Reverend Park had pushed her head underneath the water. Going under, she pinched her nose, scared of swallowing any of the river and getting worms like her gram had warned her about. She didn’t want worms. Karen Belcamp had worms one time. Karen’s mother told the principal that she could see them under Karen’s skin, puffed up and making tunnels on her arms. Emily clamped her mouth shut but kept her eyes open. Reverend sucked her up through the water and it was over.

Ronnie was the first boy they heard. “Help! Help!” He burst through the small grove of scrub trees that separated the baptism pool from the log jam. His flash of red hair was weaving wild across his pale head. Gasping, he choked out the news—the other three boys had dropped into the river when the spruce rolled beneath their feet, hurling them into the Tobique. The gap in the timbers had opened, allowing the river to swallow them whole. And Ronnie, the lone, lagging runner, had watched horrified as the floating logs closed over them and sealed the boys beneath the surface of the river.

Foley ran toward the revival tent, pulling his Buck knife from his back pocket as he huffed his way uphill, stopping only when he arrived at the fluttering white tent. He thrust his knife into the thick rope, tearing back and forth until the rope snapped, releasing the tent that fell as though it were a deflating balloon. All other able-bodied men ran toward the river.

Rene and Kent could be seen clinging to the top of a spruce log that had settled just under the water. Everyone watched the men spread on the logs like ants, dividing their routes and then converging near the boys. The first man to reach them dropped onto the log as though he were riding a bronco. The boys thrashed at the rolling log, its bark tearing at their flesh, mixing blood with the silt of the river. Their panicked moves bucked the rescuer upward, allowing him to toss the rope close enough for the boys to grasp. Letting go of the log, the boys sank, the timbers closing above them.

“Pull!” the rescuer shouted. Others joined the man, each feverishly pulling at the thick cord. All of a sudden, two heads bobbed to the surface, flailing in the few inches that would have sealed them under the water for good. Reverend Park was on his knees praying. Emily was on the shore with other onlookers who were clutching their open-mouthed faces. Dave was nowhere to be seen. Snatched by the river, she supposed, to a watery death.

A couple of hours later, Dave popped like a cork from under two logs that had worked themselves free from the jam. His body looked like a rubber raft, blue and still. Some of the men had waded downriver for the cargo they knew would come. . Emily stood helplessly to one side, anxious to know how Dave must have felt. Wet and puffy. Dead and lost. Empty and void of any emotion. Like Emily.

Ginger and I at our last residency together in the Wilkes Univerity Creative Writing programAny writing rituals you have to get going? Ha! Right at this moment I just need to get back into the great habits I had in school! Trying to juggle a career change, a new book release, full-time travel and training for my upcoming stint as an online instructor has my writing habits all askew! Normally I would get up and write for about 30 minutes to an hour before my eyes open and my head loses all the imaginative thoughts for the day! But that is coming in a few weeks as I complete my next manuscript!

What’s the worst part about being a writer? There is no worst part when you love doing something as much as I love writing. God has given me a talent and it took a very long time for me to understand that. Even though I seem to be a confident person, inside I never have been. I never thought I was good enough for anyone, nor did I feel I could do anything really well. God has shown me otherwise and for that I am very grateful! And he did it by putting wonderful people in my life like you, Gale, who have encouraged me and helped me find my voice.

If you could have written any book, which would it be? Well if you are talking about someone else’s book, it would have been the Bible. That would have meant that I had been able to share my experiences in the presence of Christ. And it’s a best-seller! If you meant what other kind of book would I have written, well that one is easy as well. It would have been a comedic story. I love to laugh and I love to entertain. That’s what I have in store for the next book!

What were you doing ten years ago? I had just moved to a new location and started a job with a Chamber of Commerce. My career spans a lot of professions from travel and tourism to economic development to insurance to teaching. But none have been as gratifying as writing.

What’s your biggest anxiety about your writing/writing life? Time. Juggling a job that requires flying all over the country with finding the time for writing and finding time for my personal life. That’s changing soon as I will be home full-time starting in 2013. Maybe then I can write full-time!

Well, thank you for having me on your blog, Gale and good luck with Grace Unexpected!

* * *

Where to find Ginger in cyberspace:

Email: grm55@me.com

 
Click here to purchase Run, River Currents.
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